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Defending people - An interview with the UN rights cheif - Zeid

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights meeting with indigenous community leaders in Guatemala. November 2017.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights meeting with indigenous community leaders in Guatemala. November 2017. photo credit: OHCHR

In his last major interview with UN News, the outgoing UN human rights chief tells us that the “real pressure on this job comes from the victims and those who suffer and expect a great deal from us.”

If you don't sometimes speak out, if you don't threaten to speak out, you don't grab their attention. And I would rather err on the speaking out part than staying silent

 Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Full interview:

UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN LOOKS BACK ON HIS TERM

The real pressure on this job comes from the victims and those who suffer and expect a great deal from us. And that’s the pressure that I think matters most and is most consequential on us in terms of the need to do the right thing.

Our job is to defend the individual victims, vulnerable communities, marginalized communities. Oppression is making a comeback. Repression is fashionable again. I don't believe anyone holding this position, even if they felt differently, ultimately can conduct business in a manner that departs too radically from the way that I've done it and my predecessors have done it. My belief is if you try to depart, you're going to hear it, and it will be extremely unpleasant for you because you're going to hear it from the very people who are suffering. 

ON HIS LEGACY

People who mattered to me are in the civil society, victims groups, human rights defenders. And if they say Zeid has, done a good job, I'd be very content with that.

If they say Zeid could have done better, I'll have to learn to live with it and accept it.

ON THE FIGHT AGAINST INJUSTICE

I met with four young girls. They had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for - and they claim these were obstetric emergencies, these were miscarriages - the State claimed that these were terminations of pregnancy. And when I sat with them, and I had with me a full team, my office was there; I think within the space of about ten minutes we were all weeping, we were in tears because their suffering was so extreme.

I saw the President after that and I said, “Why is it that all these girls are poor?” I think in many, many parts of the world, this is the point that really strikes home: that time and again, the poor suffer all the consequences.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SPEAKING OUT

I first worked with the UN in 1994, 1995 in the former Yugoslavia, and I saw what catastrophes silence can bring. And I think from that point on, I was determined not to be silent when the evidence before us was presented.

ON THE CHALLENGES OF THE UNITED NATIONS

It’s very difficult to tolerate abuse of the UN when I keep thinking of the heroic things that people do in the field, whether they be humanitarian actors or humanitarian personnel, my human rights people, the people who are monitoring or observing. And I take my hat off to them. I mean, they are the UN that I will cherish and remember.

Last modified on Thursday, 16 August 2018 10:56
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